[Self-released (2012) ]
Timothy Bracken is willing to live just on the edge of pop, writing catchy and familiar-sounding tunes that slip into unfamiliar territory just before the listener gets too comfortable. As a guitar player, he can write a mean riff (“Slightly Damaged”), cop a convincing post-Dire Straits Mark Knopfler (“This Love Won’t Let Me Go”), or craft beautifully layered slide lines (“Put It in a Box”). Though Long Untied‘s credits on the BandCamp site don’t mention it, Bracken is also a skilled multi-instrumentalist and engineer, playing drums, bass, and keyboard on most of the tracks as well as recording and mixing. Bracken’s talents and easygoing attitude keep him in frequent demand as a collaborator and utility man in bands like June Star, Fancy Face, the Weber Brothers (from West Virginia), Egg Babies Orchestra, and more.
Bracken’s lyrics aren’t always his strong point, but they never get in the way, and when he’s on, he can coax some excellent wordplay out of seemingly unremarkable words:
I don’t believe, yeah
You’re better off or any better
to think that this is done
Why can’t I have you?
Even the half that’s slightly damaged
Long Untied is part compilation, with some rereleased songs from The Timothy Bracken Complex, a handful of songs from last year’s Album Writing Month Challenge (similar to Novel Writing Month, the goal is to write and record a full album in a month; Bracken got about halfway there), and other sessions “recorded in various basements, living rooms, and bedrooms in Baltimore, Berkeley Springs, Takoma Park, and Westminster.” It’s very much not a B side or rarity collection—Bracken seems to have picked the best and most memorable material from the last several years—but the off-album tracks keep it from feeling like a best-of.
Twenty songs is a lot, but none of the songs overstay their welcome. In any case, the album is an online release and available for Name Your Price, so there’s no sense in speculating which tracks ought to have been trimmed for a leaner collection.
June Star’s Slow Dance (the band’s third release in just over two years), opens with a song that’s anything but: An upbeat rocker with a “Woo hoo hoo” chorus, it’s the closest the band has gotten—in years, if not ever—to a pure pop rock song, and a true band effort. The title track, though, puts frontman and songwriter Andrew Grimm’s vocals (a lived-in and more broken Jay Farrar-style drawl) front and center, cradled by the masterful steel guitar of David Hadley. This dynamic, moving back and forth between songs where he’s fighting the band and the songs that really put him front and center, is a good metaphor for June Star’s life as a band: Grimm is now the only constant in the band’s multi-decade run. A live show can range from a duo with Timothy Bracken to a five-piece band that where Bracken is nowhere to be found; four-piece sets without drums and three piece sets without steel guitar.
It says a lot about the underlying quality of Grimm’s almost-but-not-always country songs that they can survive or thrive under drastic changes in instrumentation. Everything still gets from point A to point B. Fittingly, Grimm has chosen a map for the cover; it shows roads and terrain, but, every once in a while, it looks more like a dancer mid-pirouette.
[This album is also available for download as Name Your Price, but if you catch them on their upcoming tour you can pick up one of the limited edition (of 300) printed copies. -ed]
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)